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Kimberley and NT News: updates from the NT, booking recommendations, trip reports.
November 22, 2018

22 November 2018, Issue #072

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In this issue:
  • Recent Updates and News
  • 2019 Trip Planning and Booking
  • Reader Feedback and Trip Reports

Hi everyone!

This newsletter was supposed to go out a couple of weeks ago. But I decided to wait for an interesting update that I would have loved to include and which I expected to come through sooner.
After I had waited for a week already, of course I didn't want to send the newsletter and then get the update a couple of days after. And you know how that goes...

Here we are, weeks later, still no update. Guess I'll get it in a couple of days or so... Sigh.

So let's instead look at the other stuff that has been sitting in my drafts folder waiting!

Recent News and Updates

There have been no substantial rains yet. (Not that you'd expect that at this time of the year).
Instead bushfires have continued to plague all regions of the Kimberley and beyond. (You do expect that this time of the year.)

The latest one to make headlines was a big one on the west coast, closing the Great Northern highway between Sandfire Roadhouse and Marble Bar Road. Even though well south of the Kimberley it still affected Kimberley residents, just like the wet season closures do.
Extended highway closures --> empty supermarket shelves etc.

Not much else to tell you from the Kimberley.
I do have some small updates for the NT guides.

One reader wrote with some changes in the Top End. You'll find those in the reader feedback section below.

And Monica wrote with the following update she has made to Destination Red Centre:

Ooraminna Station has re-opened
This property has always been one of my favourites but was closed for many years. It is set in 600 acres of beautiful woodland complete with walking tracks and a billabong. There's a campground with showers, toilets and washing machines. $15pp per night. They also offer swag hire if you feel like camping out under the stars. There's four luxury cottages for rent from $165-$250 per night, a deckchair cinema on Fridays and various activities and concerts throughout the year. They also have an a la carte restaurant. Plus you can check out the rustic filmset which was originally built to film Ted Egan's "The Drover's Boy".
Ooraminna is about 40km south of Alice on route 6, the Old Ghan and Binns Track Loop, in Destination Red Centre – an Insider’s Guide.

2019 Trip Planning and Booking

As in November 2017, I want to take this opportunity to remind you that NOW is actually the time to start planning your 2019 trip.

Tourist numbers in the Kimberley have increased massively over the last years.

Every year it is becoming more important to book early enough, not just accommodation but also cars and campervans!

You find recommendations regarding booking timelines in the last pages of the free Kimberley Pocket Guide, starting from page 49.

Here are those recommendations again in a nutshell:
  • While there isn't any rush yet, there are certain accommodations that book up very quickly. (Certain styles of accommodation at Cape Leveque or Mornington for example.)

  • The less flexible your schedule, the bigger the chance that your choice of accommodation may not be available at that exact date.

  • Car hire/accommodation packages sell out pretty quickly, campervan hire may still be possible at shorter notice.

  • Early bookers may be able to take advantage of special offers on car/campervan hire packages. Some accommodations may also offer early bird specials.

  • Obviously the time of the year matters too. If you travel during peak season, you need to book much earlier than if you travel in late September.

  • If you want to beat the rush, then get everything sorted and booked before the year is out, or as soon as possible after. Peak booking season starts after New Year.

  • If you want to travel during the main season (from late June into August) make sure everything is booked and finalised by end of March the very latest to avoid disappointment.

And if you have your own vehicle, plenty of time, a flexible schedule, are travelling outside the main season and camping all the way, then you don't need to book anything and can make arrangements on the road 24-48 hrs ahead.

The recommendations above are for people who are not so lucky, which is the vast majority!

Everything I said above applies to the Northern Territory also (though to a lesser degree to the accommodation there, because the tourism industry is much more developed in the NT and there is an overall higher capacity and therefore usually more alternatives).

If you want to make the whole process of choosing and booking easy on yourself, then do yourself a favour and look at this service.

Reader Feedback and Trip Reports

Let's start with a new trip report on the website.
Axel had sent me a long email with feedback about his experience. It included his full itinerary as well as useful hints, especially for people travelling with children.
So I suggested he also send me some pictures and we make it a reader page on the website.
Here is the result:

Four weeks in the NT and the Kimberley (2018)

Axel in his trip report also touched on several topics that were covered in older newsletters, such as driver behaviour on the Gibb and the state of the track to Wunnamurra Gorge.
I had asked about Wunnamurra in the last newsletter. Axel was the only reader who got back to me who had in fact done the trip this season, and here is what he wrote about it in his trip report:

"I found the road was exactly as you described it. I was very excited because I never did 4WD driving before this holiday and you and other sources like WikiCamps described it as very serious 4WDing. We did not have to do track building but were one of only 3 cars that dared to go till the end of the road. You just have to go slow and need high clearance as mentioned by you. The way up was more difficult off course and we joined with the last remaining car to be to able help each other in case we get in trouble. We touched ground 2 or 3 times but that was it."

It appears that John from last issue was unlucky when finding the track in even worse condition than usual.
Here are a couple more answers from readers, showing that it has always been a challenging drive.

Caroline wrote:

"We did this some years ago. To me it was very rough in sections, like white-knuckle gripping the dash handle rough, but my husband absolutely loved it as it meant he could do some 'real 4WDing'. Having worked in a remote cattle station in the Victorian high country he is an experienced 4WDriver whereas I would not have attempted the track myself. A proper high clearance 4WD ie Landcruiser with low range is a necessity for the rock jumping."

And Brian said:

"Re your Issue 71, while it was back in 2014 that we enjoyed the Kimberleys, and in particular Mornington and Mt Elizabeth Station, for us the slow and wonderfully challenging trip to Wunnamurra Gorge was a highlight.  It is something that demonstrated to us that the Kimberleys had not lost the ruggedness that makes it so famous."

On to more general feedback...
Doug and Leonie wrote:

"We had a fabulous Kimberley experience spending most of August in the area. We did the Duncan Road as well as Great Northern Highway to Broome, and back along the Gibb River Road with Cape Leveque and a cruise aboard the Diversity in the middle. Then Purnululu and the Tanami Road to finish off!
Your guidance was fantastic.
Cape Leveque and Purnululu roads were the worst condition mostly due to the day trip buses.
There were no crowds and we would highly recommend travelling at the tail end of the season as we did (apart from the dust at campgrounds).
Thank you for helping us get the most out of our trip."

Incidentally, the day before Doug wrote this message, the DPaW had issued an alert for Purnululu, advising the tour bus operators to stop their bloody speeding on that road.
(They may have used slightly different wording, but that was the gist of their message.)

Kevin was not happy with the costs at some of the places he visited:

"Have just returned from 4 months of travel, double Simpson crossing, Great Central Rroad etc.
I am appalled at some of the costs to stay at places like ELQ on the Gibb. An unpowered site using all our own facilities was $30 per person plus $12 per person park entry fee. How can they justify those charges.
It's no wonder that people like us on a restricted budget free camp when they can.
Anyway just a whinge won't change much I guess?
Many thanks for a great newsletter about a wonderful part of Australia."

Jan has a recommendation regarding communication in remote areas:

"We are back from our trip on the Gibb River Road. Your book was a great help with tips and suggestions. It is always a bit difficult to plan what to do and what is possible from paper. Now we have been there I should take more time in between our stops to see more.
We stayed in Home Valley Station, Mount Elisabeth Station and Mount Hart Station. All the places are very good and you meet all kind of people traveling up and down the road and that is great. To meet people.
Ellenbrae Station is fabulous. It is indeed an oasis special to visit and have a little rest.

For the connection with the world is sometimes internet available along the road but not secure and it is a very slow connection. I used the
inReach Mini to stay in contact with family and friends. Based upon GPS coordinates and SMS messages based on the Iridium network.
inReach Mini gives you the opportunity the send an SOS signal in an case of emergency. On an Earthmate site on the computer relatives and others with a code can follow your trip. A very good system and it gives us an important safe and secure feeling.
It should be an extra as you can put the coordinates from the roadhouses in your book. Everybody nowadays works with GPS navigation and it is a great advantages as you know the coordinates from the several places.

We took 20 litres of diesel with us but thanks to my planning and knowing where the roadhouses were was this with our 4-wheel drive no problem.
Thanks for all the information in your book, it was a great help.
PS.: I forgot to mention the fact: take always an tube of two second glue with you. It could be a great help in many cases as in ours."

Hugh has sage advice for anyone who is nervous about the Gibb River Road:

"In June, while camped at El Questro as we started our trek towards the west, we read the then most recent of your epistles. One of your correspondents, his name escapes me, had written about how busy the GRR was and how badly the other drivers he met were behaving. This, combined with the decision a good friend of mine took some years previously to NOT drive the GRR because of the alleged conditions, put me off the idea. It was only the very strong support of my wife which helped change my mind.

We drive a 2007 Prado and tow a 1 tonne camper trailer, a heavily modified 'Patriot'. We have done quite a bit of off road driving and the car is serviced by excellent 4WD specialists. It has had a small lift in height, about 1" above standard. We run aftermarket shocks, as recommended by our mechanics. We have a second set of steel rims which are fitted with Cooper S/T Maxx Tyres which we have had for about 4 years for both the car and trailer. These are our expedition tyres and have NEVER let us down. They are about 50% worn. We run the tyres at the pressure recommended by the manufacturer for our load 32psi front and 36psi rear and trailer. On unsealed roads we reduce the pressure by 25% and are ready to drop it further when/if conditions warrant.

As retired people with a limited income we are both cautious drivers and do our best to drive to the conditions.

Our experience on the GRR and the side roads we took, including the drives to Mitchell River Falls, Kalumburu, Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge, and the 50+km into Bungle Bungle NP, as well as the road from Napier Downs to Fitzroy Crossing reinforced a number of things we have learned over the years:

Take your time to see the country. (We were on the road for 23 days between Kununurra and Derby with so much to see and do.)
Drive to the conditions. On the days we were there, some sections of the GRR we could drive comfortably at 80+kmh, other sections we were doing less than 20kmh. Creek crossings can be a breeze or a nightmare. SLOW DOWN.
If someone in front of you is slow, there might be a good reason. Call up on the 2-way to find out.
DON'T drive in a dust cloud.
Reduce tyre pressure at least 25% on unsealed roads and another 25% (at least) for rough and rocky tracks.

All in all we were away from home for 13+ weeks and travelled 17,000+ km with 4,000+ km unsealed roads. NO FLAT TYRES and NO WINDSCREEN DAMAGE in that distance.
Margaret and I changed drivers about every 2 hours. Fatigue is a big enemy on long drives.
The car had a 300,000 km service at the Toyota dealership in Karratha.

My last advice is to not read too much into the fears and problems of other drivers. If you and your vehicle are truly properly prepared all will be OK if you take it easy."

Colin has recommendations and updates for people heading for Mary River or Limmen NP in the NT:

"My wife and I have just returned to Melbourne after 13000km of NT and QLD touring. We started off by doing the Tanami, turned north to Wave Hill via Hooker Ck and did the Bungles, then onto to Kununurra, Keep River, Flora River (fabulous spot) onto Katherine, Daly River, Darwin and finally into Kakadu.
We took your advice and did the Corroboree Billabong water tour which was the best we have ever done.
I decided we could do the Hardie Ck bit and circumnavigate through the Wildman area then back to the higway and into Kakadu.
Not so. The Mary River is blocked by huge rocks and has been for quite a while. There is no access to Annaburro Station. We now had to backtrack a very rough, DUSTY passage towing our Tvan which is quite capable in virtually any situation. We made our way out so we could go to the Mary River Park, excellent place.
Bitter Springs was fantastic.
Roper Bar Store is closed as the lady who owns the place has died and the Leichhardts caravan park is no longer open. Camping is now at Tomato Island further down the road towards Borroloola. Great spot and very good amenities."

Although Colin was not a happy chap AT ALL when he realised he would have to backtrack along Hardies's track, his last sentence in our email exchange was:

"Turned out to be quite an adventure, thanks for the opportunity, Birgit."

Phew, thinks she. ;)
Colin also added...

"If I was to recommend for anybody asking, then I would suggest an overnight or more night camping as it has a lot of different sites to discover.
With careful driving a camper can be towed in. Our Track Trailer Tvan had no problems.
One billabong we had morning tea at had Agile wallabies feeding, just a few but when we were returning we decided it would a be good spot to stop for afternoon cuppa and there were about a 100 Agile wallabies feeding on the grass and they didn't take any notice of us at all. Fantastic sight."

Great attitude and thanks for taking the time to write, Colin!
(Naturally, the changes Colin mentions have been updated in Destination Top End.)

And that's it for today.

I have one last request:

If you have been or are currently travelling with one of my Destination Guides, and if, like Colin, you come across something that's out of date or in your opinion not portrayed accurately, by all means, swear at me or call me names. But then, PLEASE, also let me know about it.
Without guide no information -- without information no guide!

A big thank you to everyone who took the time to write to me with their feedback!

Safe travels and talk again soon!

Destination Kimberley, Destination Top End and Destination Red Centre have all the information you need to put together your dream trip.

To sign up for this newsletter and receive the free Kimberley Pocket Guide go here.

Feedback? Found some out of date info in one of my guides? Let me know via

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